Some people don’t deserve to be saved, right?

Aren’t some people so terrible they’re beyond saving? Like Attila the Hun who killed for the thrill of killing, or the priest who abuses hundreds of children and mocks his prosecutors, or any brutal criminal who shows no remorse for his cruelty.

But even the worst of people has been “reconciled to God through the death of his Son,” Romans 5:10, including Hitler and all the other genocidal maniacs like him. But how could God forgive such people for the horrors they’ve perpetrated? Surely they don’t deserve to be saved. Why on earth would God even want to save them?

But, Paul writes, we’ve all been “made alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5. And God’s reason for doing that is? “In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,” verse 7. Well, he’s certainly done that, because how could anyone put up with the likes of us humans? Just watching the News makes me want to do serious damage to some people, so how does God feel?

Well, Paul tells us how God feels. “I was shown mercy,” he writes in 1 Timothy 1:13, “because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.” Paul had no idea what he was doing at the time, and God took that into account. Talk about grace. Did I have that kind of grace as a parent when my kids did something really idiotic? But here was Paul, “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man,” verse 13, directing all his fury against Christians too, so imagine being God and having to watch Paul tear apart the church he’d just birthed. If anyone fit the category “doesn’t deserve to be saved,” it was Paul.

But God accepted Paul’s ignorance. And that now stands as a beautiful example of how God feels and how he reacts to people who suddenly see themselves as they really are and wonder how God could ever forgive them. “I was shown mercy,” Paul continues in verse 16, “so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”

Imagine being Hitler on the day he realizes the enormity of what he did. “How can God ever forgive me?” he’ll ask himself. But God’s put up with millions of people just like him, who did terrible things without ever acknowledging they were wrong. But God never lost patience with them. In fact, he doesn’t hold anything they did against them, 2 Corinthians 5:19. Imagine Hitler’s relief, just like our relief when we too saw God for who he really is.

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Are there some people God can’t save?

For some odd reason there are Christians who seriously object to the idea that God might just save everybody.

It’s a bit like Jonah who was seriously put out when God didn’t destroy Nineveh. Jonah wanted Nineveh to go to hell, because in his mind they deserved hell. No wonder he dug in his heels when he heard God was offering salvation to a hated and dangerous enemy. And humanly that’s understandable, just as it’s understandable hearing that God might save Hitler, or your drunken, abusive father, or the predator who kills young girls, or the pedophile priest, or the owner of a clothing company who uses children as slave labour.

But Nineveh is encouraging because it means God can get through to even the most obstinate, arrogant, vicious, power-hungry people on earth, which is what the Assyrian Empire was. Quoting from The Minor Prophets by Farrar, there was “no power more savage. The kings of Assyria exult to record how they flung away the bodies of soldiers like so much clay; how they made pyramids of human heads; how they impaled ‘heaps of men’ on stakes; how they cut off the hands of kings and nailed them on the walls, and left their bodies to rot on the entrance gates of cities, and covered pillars with the flayed skins of rival monarchs.”

The Assyrians are like those brutal corporations today that care nothing about human life or the planet in their pursuit of power and profit. They revel in manipulating governments, they laugh as they supply weapons to both sides in a war, and they strut in their arrogance as though they’re invincible.

And God wants to save them too? Why? Because he can. If he can get through to Nineveh he can get through to anybody. He got through to Paul, who by his own admission was the “worst sinner of all.” When God goes to work on a person, there is no stopping him in his relentless pursuit. A person can resist him, as did Israel, who even killed their Saviour, but God will save all Israel one day (Romans 11:26-27).

A lot of people resist God, and for understandable reasons – they’ve been turned off God by fear religion, by natural disasters killing innocent people, or by God not stopping serial killers of women and children. But God has mercy on them all (verse 32) because of what he accomplished through Jesus. Jesus became Nineveh, he became the serial killer, he became the power-hungry corporation and conquered them all on the cross, so that every enemy of humanity will be under Jesus’ feet (1 Corinthian 15:25), and EVERY knee will gladly bow before him (Romans 14:11-12).

There are two salvations?

I don’t remember the day I was saved because I wasn’t there when it happened. I had to wait two thousand years before I discovered I’d been totally accepted by God before I was even born, and all due to Christ’s death on the cross.

Other Christians, on the other hand, DO remember the day they were saved, because they were there when it happened. They remember even the date, perhaps, when they believed and accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour. “And that’s the day I was saved,” they say.

So now we have two groups of Christians, one group that thinks they were saved before they even knew about salvation, and another group that thinks they were saved only after they knew about salvation. The first group believes they were saved without any acceptance or belief on their part, while the second group believes they were saved because of their acceptance and belief.

So who’s right? Well, depending on one’s definition of “salvation” both groups can be right. If we’re talking salvation as defined by the first half of Romans 5:10 – “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” – then the first group would be right. God totally accepted us – even as his enemies – when his Son died, not because of any conscious acceptance or belief on our part.

But if we’re talking salvation as defined by the second half of Romans 5:10 – “how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be be saved through his life” – then the second group would also be right. Yes, God accepted and forgave us because of Christ’s death, but there’s more to salvation than that. There’s also the salvation that comes with Christ’s life in the here and now. And this salvation does require acceptance and belief, Romans 10:9, because it’s only “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

“Saved” here means the salvation that comes with the resurrected Christ’s life, that happens in this life now. And that’s what kicks in when a person accepts and believes that “Jesus is Lord,” verse 11, because he understands that Jesus as Lord is now saving us every day from “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires,” 2 Peter 1:4, and he “richly blesses all who call on him,” Romans 10:12.

That’s the other salvation we receive through Jesus. It’s not the salvation we receive from his death, it’s the salvation we receive from his resurrected life right now, that we experience daily as he transforms our lives into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Salvation eternal and salvation now

The gospel talks of two salvations, the salvation of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” and the salvation of Acts 2:40, when Peter cried out to the crowd, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  The first salvation is about saving us from the penalty of our sins forever, and the second salvation is about saving us from the influence of sin now. Salvation eternal and salvation now, the two great salvations included in the gospel message.

It started with John the Baptist and his “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” in Mark 1:4, and it continued with the apostles and their preaching in Luke 24:46-47, that “Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.”

And that’s exactly what Peter preached in Acts 3:19, when he told his fellow Jews: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may wiped out,” and verse 26: “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you (Jews) to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” It was the same message in Acts 5:31 too: “God exalted Jesus to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” And thousands of Jews believed it, that their sins had been forgiven forever and their lives could be straightened out in this life now.

That same message then went to the Gentiles in Acts 26:17-18 when Jesus sent Paul “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” That’s the first salvation, salvation eternal, the total forgiveness of their sins forever made possible by Jesus’ death. And then in verse 20: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” That’s the other salvation, salvation now, where real changes start happening in one’s life now.

Peter talks again about both salvations in 2 Peter 1, how God has made it possible for us to “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires,” verse 4. That’s the salvation we experience every day, but what stirs a person to live that salvation from the wrong ways and thinking of this world now is the ever present memory of being “cleansed from his past sins,” verse 9. He never forgets his salvation eternal either.

Everybody’s saved, they just don’t know it yet

Christ “died for ALL,” 2 Corinthians 5:15, to be the “Saviour of ALL men,” 1 Timothy 4:10.

So Christ doesn’t miss anybody out. He “gave himself as a ransom for all men,” 1 Timothy 2:6, and he “tasted death for everyone,” Hebrews 2:9, “for the sins of the whole world,” 1 John 2:2, so that God could “reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross,” Colossians 1:19-20.

So it’s abundantly clear that Christ’s death covers everybody. And when he died, all humanity died with him, 2 Corinthians 5:14. Logically, then, if Christ died to save everyone and we’re all included in that death, then everybody must be saved already. Christ died, job done. “It is finished.”

But not all Christians see it this way, that salvation for all humans – past, present and future – was done and dusted by Jesus on the cross. Some, for instance, believe that only an elect few are saved. Others believe that only those who repent and believe receive salvation. In the minds of these Christians, therefore, salvation is either selective or conditional, that only some people are saved based on certain conditions being met. Salvation for them is definitely not for everybody, nor is it a free gift. Instead, salvation is only “potentially” ours, or it’s only granted in exchange for something we do.

That’s not what Ephesians 2:5 says, however, because “God made us alive with Christ EVEN WHEN we were dead in transgressions.” In other words, God saved us before we even had a clue what salvation was. He saved us from eternal death when we couldn’t care less about repentance and faith. It was when we were in no condition to be saved that he saved us. Why? Verse 8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this NOT FROM YOURSELVES, it is the GIFT of God.” Salvation from beginning to end is a gift, and a gift that was ours already before we even knew about it.

So here we all are – all of us saved already as God’s amazing gift to us through Christ’s shed blood. But not everybody knows that yet, so it’s the job of the Christian church to tell them, Romans 10:15 – but – tell people in such a way that they get the message of how GOOD God is in making salvation his gift to us, so that people respond and “call on him” (verse 12), because in responding to God he then goes to work on “blessing” them (12) with his OTHER wonderful gift, “the righteousness that comes from him” (3). He now begins to change their lives, because that too is included in his gift of salvation – and if only people knew that as well.

Can we save the world without God?

Rejecting God and Jesus as no longer real or relevant still leaves us with the problems of discrimination, racism, polarized views on sexual orientation and gender, and a host of other issues, opinions and feelings that separate, divide, marginalize, ostracize and drive an increasing number of people into conflict, depression and suicide.

So how are we going to save the world from all these problems without God?

Easy, society says, we create a world where everybody is treated fairly and equally, by honouring people’s right to be who they are, and embracing everyone no matter what they self-identify as. We also treat sexual and gender diversity as a normal, wonderful part of being human, and since we’re deeply emotional and spiritual beings we elevate feelings above facts. And to make sure this program goes ahead we make laws that require people to be inclusive of all, that shame and blame those who argue and disagree, that crush free speech and debate, and silence rebels with jail time, loss of income and public humiliation.

This way, society believes, we can put an end to people being marginalized, enabling all of us to get along by being free to be ourselves without discrimination, harassment, guilt or shame. And if we all get on board with the program we can save the world – and without any need for God and Jesus too. So, take that God; we can do without you.

Is God miffed by our arrogance? Not in Job 40:14 he isn’t. He tells Job, “I’ll gladly step aside and hand things over to you (since) you can save yourself with no help from me!” – or as another translation phrases it, “I’ll readily admit that your own right hand can save you.” Hey, if we can prove we can save the world without God, God’s response is, “Go for it.”

And we’ve certainly taken him up on his challenge too. We’ve come up with all sorts of utopian experiments, with the usual massive societal pressure to get everyone on board, but there are always people who resist, because they either feel their own rights are being trodden on, or they think they’ve got a much better idea. And God did warn in verses 11-13 that this would happen, that there would always be resistance. “But,” he says, “if you think you can bring these wicked people to their knees so all resistance is smashed forever and no evil exists anymore, then I’ll admit you can save the world without me.”

So, come up with something to save the world that everyone agrees with and there’s no resistance, and that’s when we can rightly say we don’t need God.

“If we neglect so great salvation” – meaning?

In the old King James Version Hebrews 2:3 uses the word “neglect” in connection with salvation. But how does a person neglect salvation, and how would he know he was neglecting it, too? With a garden it’s easy to know because neglect breeds a weed patch. Neglect your health, home or car and things soon go to pot, rot and ruin. But what obvious symptoms show up when salvation is neglected?

Well, like anything neglected, salvation stops doing what it was made for. Salvation, just like a car or a home, is built to serve our needs as perfectly as possible for as long as possible, and if cared for it works beautifully for us. A car that coughs to a halt and leaves you stranded isn’t doing what it was made for. Neither is a home that goes mouldy or a body that gets weak and sickly. But neither is salvation doing what it was made for if it isn’t enabling us to love God and love neighbour at all times.

Because that’s what salvation was made for. So when I’m driving home after a long day and the traffic is nose to tail and crawling along at snail speed, salvation enables me to not get upset, because salvation was made for all circumstances in which I’m tempted to hate my neighbour. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Paul said in Philippians 4:13, which today would include not coming unglued in traffic.

But that’s what salvation was made for. It was made for survival in the devil’s insane world, where circumstances constantly arise that make us want to spit at people. It struck me, therefore, how silly I am to neglect so great salvation that was made for such a world, because included in that salvation are all the fruits of the Spirit, which far exceed what’s needed to survive in traffic. I also know what symptoms show up when I neglect that salvation too – obvious things like road rage, near misses with pedestrians, heart-thumping emergency stops and risky overtaking manoeuvres, and long, grim trips that make me irritable and short-tempered.

And what stirred these thoughts, ironically, was being stuck at the back of a long line of traffic, weaving its way through the countryside like slugs on holiday, with no opportunities to overtake. It was getting late and I’d had a long, tiring day of work as well as nearly 6 hours driving. I wondered at the time if salvation covered situations like this. And it dawned on me that of course it does. How silly I would be, then, to neglect it.